India, as a nation is obsessed with sons. Every family craves for a son, there will be very few homes where daughters are treated at par. Even the parents, who today publicly declare themselves proud to have only daughters would have sometime visited all possible doctors, temples and God-men in the search of fulfilling their dream of having a son.
There is a strong bias in the way most families deal with their sons as compared to the daughters. I remember, long time back, I was enjoying a lovely afternoon in our club when I saw these two toddler, a boy and a girl, happily scurrying around on the floor on their hands and knees till they reached a place from where the only way to go forward was via the two steps. The option was to turn back or try and go forward which involved a risk of getting hurt. I was waiting for their responses as they had a good look on the steps and what happens?? The boy, usually the pampered lot, found the easier solution, just cried aloud and the mother came running and carried him across the two steps. What did the girl and her mother do? As the mother observed from a safe distance, the girl seemingly gave the steps a serious look, had her plans ready, just turned around, hung her little legs down the step, slid down, landing safely on her two feet. That’s the way our girls are generally brought up, to adjust under all circumstances whereas the pampered boys start making noise and look for help at the first obstacle they hit.
I am reminded of another place in North India where my wife was heading a Public school generally subscribed to by the students from middle class and rural families. In spite of the best of the efforts made by my wife, the parents generally preferred to enrol the boys in the public school and the girls in the Government schools, which costed less. This was despite the fact that most of the girls were much better than their brothers in education and other extra- curricular activities.
As a nation we suffer with this mindset, inherited from our fore fathers. Well, this must have made sense in the olden times when men folk went out in search of food/ hunting or stayed out long fighting wars and the women stayed at home taking care of the home and family. Today’s war is hardly fought physically and there is no hunting or searching for food, everything is available off the shelf. The mindset still carries on, the son is still considered the bread winner, the one who will take care of parents in their old age while the girl will be generally married off and take care of “Her” family. Boys after boys have turned this belief of their parents on their head and deserted when they were needed most and any numbers of girls have shown that they are they have the strength and the will to take care of both the families, in-laws as well as parents, but the rigid mindset of the oldies refuse to change. While all efforts are made to educate the boys well to make them professionally proficient girls are still generally groomed for taking care of the family.
Girls are considered as the weaker gender. While boys are given enough liberties to be on their own while good girls are supposed to generally stay indoors or allowed to go out only in groups or under the watchful eyes of their brothers/ elders. While mistakes after mistakes of the sons are overlooked or covered up by the parents, the girls live under the burden of family honour. A small mistake now, and the mindset that parents will always be there by their side for help, encourages the boys to do bigger mistakes later in life. This feeling of superiority ‘goes to the head’ of the boys and can be seen in their behaviour on the street where a girl moving out alone late at night is mostly taken to be characterless and ‘available’, weaker gender available for exploitation by the superior. This happens even in the so called most educated, elite classes too. A girl’s character is still judged by what she wears or drinks whereas there are no/ limited restrictions on the boys. Men carry the same mindset to the offices and cases of sexual harassment continue to be reported despite so many laws being made to prevent it. Society, in general, still holds the woman responsible in some way or the other in cases of rape/ harassment.
The onus of changing this mindset lies with the parents and teachers. A child should be brought up as a child and not as a gender. Why should there be only “Boys’ or only ‘Girls’ schools or why should there be separate seating rows for girls and boys in the classrooms. Let the boys and girls learn, play, and grow together to develop a non-prejudiced healthy mindset. The gender equality has to start from the home where the daughter has to be given the same ‘right to choose’ as given to the son. Let the boys also be held accountable for maintaining family honour. Parents have to stop the practice of covering up every mistake of their son.
“Parents have to stop expecting the boys to be just good sons/ brothers, they have to be brought up to be good humans who respect life. The gender bias has to stop at home and daughters be given the same rights and freedom as the sons. No reservation will do any good till the mindset changes”